By Gerald Almy: Four time-tested deer stands
Do you sometimes feel like deer hunting has become overly complicated and high-tech? If you find yourself longing to go back to an old-fashioned, straight-forward approach for hunting whitetails, here are four time-tested stands you can turn to for this fall. In a follow-up article we’ll cover three more classic deer stand locations.
First find a few of these in your hunting area. Confirm that they’re being used by scouting for fresh signs. Then get your bow or firearm ready.
Any one of these could produce a good buck this fall, without the hunt being meticulously plotted out and overly-complicated. If not a buck, they might yield a plump doe for the freezer.
Along with the proven stand site we’ve outlined a top tactic to use. And we’ve also included a tip on each location for how you can up your odds for success or improve the spot’s attractiveness with a bit of quick habitat work, aimed towards enhancing the site for next season.
Natural clearing in woods
Deer gravitate to clearings in mature woods for the edge habitat they provide and the forbs, saplings and shrubs that offer protein-rich browse.
Tactic: Bucks also use clearings as posturing areas to see and be seen by does and to establish pecking order as the rut approaches. Take advantage of this by setting out a young buck decoy in the clearing (during bow season). This should help tempt mature bucks out in the open to show their dominance.
Tip: Plant half a dozen late-maturing apple, pear or persimmon trees in the clearing. They’ll get enough sunlight to thrive and offer an added attraction for bucks besides the natural foods found there.
Ditch or depression
In flat country, bucks don’t have ridges or hollows to follow, but they do have ditches. The lower elevation provides security through lower visibility and a natural travel route. They’re also often wet, nurturing shrubs, flowers and saplings that provide food and cover to the deer as they move along the ditch. (Yes, deer eat flowers.)
Tactic: Set up along depressions connecting bed-to-feed routes early in the season. When the rut approaches, switch to ditches or streambeds connecting different doe family groups and doe feeding areas.
Tip: Make these low drainage areas more appealing by planting 15- to 25-foot wide strips of native warm season grasses for extra security in spots that lack cover. Good species include switch grass, Indian grass and big and little bluestem.
The oldest bucks start making scrapes as territorial markings in September. As the rut approaches, more bucks join in, making these potentially hot stand sites from late summer through pre-rut. They’ll then be productive again a week or two after peak breeding occurs.
Tactic: Hunt the freshest scrapes you can find, with all leaves cleared from the oval pawed area and a large hoof print showing. Focus on those with a broken “licking branch” overhead where deer leave scent from their face, nose, and forehead glands.
Tip: A majority of scraping activity occurs at night. To circumvent this problem, pinpoint large tracks, rubs and scuffled leaves showing the route a buck uses to approach the scrape. Then set up 50-100 yards downwind of the scrape along that route to increase your odds for getting a shot during legal shooting hours.
Head of Hollow
Hollows serve as natural travel routes in hilly or mountainous terrain. Deer typically travel up them in mornings to elevated bedding cover and then down in late afternoon to food-rich valleys and stream bottoms. They also cruise along them looking for does at pinch points at the top of the hollow during the rut.
Tactic: Stand hunt near the ravine bottom in the afternoon for deer moving down towards feed areas. Hunt the top of the hollow at daybreak for bucks heading up towards bedding cover or searching for does during the rut.
Tip: Thermals rise in the morning, so have a friend ease slowly up the ravine at daybreak. His scent and movement will help nudge bucks toward your ambush spot at the top. Then switch to a different hollow and do the same for him the next morning after you’ve tagged out.
Coming Next Week: three more Classic Deer Stands that can put the “fun” back in hunting.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.